A Call to a New Model of Lay Ministry

Today, in our cities and towns, doors are propped open in hope. People in boarding homes, brave in their illnesses, wise, holy and gifted, prop the door open and say “Please, come in.” They offer a vibrant hospitality. Residents of these homes are blessed with many pastoral gifts and will enrich the lives of those who join them.

Today in our congregations people have also been blessed with pastoral gifts from the Holy Spirit. They are called by God to exercise these gifts in joy and faithfulness.

Our ministry can help bring these two groups together. Then, unified, they will  form a new gathering of friends that will live in mutual spiritual care. Lay ministry is central to Christian life. Boarding Homes Ministry can lead church members to a celebratory, life-enhancing expression of their own holy calling  that will glorify God and benefit society.

To help explain this new form of holy community we will turn to some of the art Boarding Homes Ministry commissioned for our Church School Curriculum project, Cat Jeoffry. It examines the church’s role in embracing people of the mental health community. [All art shown below is held in copyright by the artists and cannot be used without their permission.]

The following painting by Sue Miller illustrates a scene from Christopher Smart’s poem written c1760, For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry. Smart was a brilliant and devout man and an established poet in England. At one point in his life he was confined in a madhouse. In the awfulness of the place he pined for his cat Jeoffry. The cat was brought to him, and here in the painting Jeoffry is seen about to enter the home. He is a mixture of blessing and trepidation.

The madhouse will be a rough place. But the cat, illuminated by God, takes up the role of bringing comfort. Jeoffry will become a source of joy, protection and spiritual life. He is a mystical a cat who prays [as do the animals in Psalm 148] and he praises and dedicates his day to God. Smart offers us a whimsical, delightful and inspirational portrait of Jeoffry – God’s emissary.

Jeoffry is a model of lay ministry.

And so here he sits, drawing light from God, ready to enter the home. Fortunately, today there are no houses quite like this eighteenth century one with its chains and horrors. But in our own age, too often, beautiful, gifted people who struggle with mental illness are branded with stereotypes, belittled by harsh, unkind language, and too often left alone.

Jeoffry comes forward as a follower of Christ. He gets ready to bring compassion, worship, good humour and gentleness to the home. Today, lay ministers of the church of Jesus can take up a similar happy, daring role as they honour people with dignifying language, develop charming friendships and faithfully visit with residents in local homes.

This is the role of Boarding Homes Ministry;
to nurture Christian life by
helping link committed church visitors
and the residents of area boarding homes.

Team Members

If a church can generate four or five committed visitors then it can approach a home and see if visits can be started.

Team members (lay ministers) are ordained in love,
They are commissioned to cultivate spiritual vision
and live in generous humility.
Team members will hold this new community
in loving attentiveness.

And while all this may seem daunting,
in truth,
in God’s support,
people like yourself can be part a lay ministry team.

“I have experienced moments of profound connection that have stayed with me long after the visit has ended. I have at times been challenged to question my life’s priorities. There have been other times when I have been deeply moved. Why do I do this? Is it to bring kindness and caring into the lives of others? I suppose that is part of it. But I also realize that it has much to do with what I learn about life, humility and basic human connection.” – Team member

Team members prayerfully prepare for visits, and when they arrive in the home they listen more than speak. They set aside impossible agendas, expectations, and attempts at “fixing”. They do not enter the home trying to be clinicians, doctors, social workers or case managers. They enter the boarding home humbly as part of the body of Christ. They come not so much to teach as to learn and to flesh out a spiritual union.

All team members conduct themselves with the highest possible ethical standards. They represent God and church among vulnerable people, and therefore, they follow the high standards of conduct as laid out in such documents as the Presbyterian Church’s Leading With Care [or similar document of your denomination which speaks to the behaviour of church representatives and the appropriate treatment of vulnerable adults.]

Team members will not visit with a resident alone. For everyone’s safety there will always have another member of the team present. Team members will have passed a Police check, and, will have been recommended to the ministry by the congregation’s Session or ruling body. They will conduct themselves with highest Christian integrity.

The Visits: Devout Celebrations

People might wonder, if a church joins with a home, what would the visits look like?

Visits are usually every second week, and they last about one and a half hours. It’s best to think of them, not as some heavy, huge pastoral event, no, they are visits to a friend’s home. God permeates all moments of the visit as people meet on the porch or in a corridor or in the lounge area. Usually the team will bring in food, fruit or snacks. Christians gather over food.

The visit is profound, but casual. Nothing is forced. To be forced is to be false. During the visit people will come and go. They will drift about. Restlessness can be part of illness. Residents, of course, are not required to attend the visits at all. It is their home, they can move about as they please. This is not rudeness, it is just how fluid communities in Christ develop.

There is usually a time set aside for prayer, song and reflection, but we never try to recreate the structures of Sunday morning. The visit to a home is a series of distinct interactions, “moments”, each to be received and treasured in love. And the team will practice a light-spirited opportunism as it gladly engages whomever is available on that day.

Yes, there is a serious quality to the visits. Christian union is no trivial matter. Even friendship is no small thing, especially for those who are isolated. God calls us to holy friendship. Therefore, a visit is a holy proclamation. It is evidence of gospel. It creates union, when so much of the world would keep us apart.

And more, as the community joins in genial conversation, hymn singing, prayer or meditation, the faithful will hold to God’s gracious presence. As with everything touched by the Divine it becomes deeper and richer. Visits are therefore a devout celebration. Life is released in venues where holiness and friends are taken seriously.

Community Narrative

“For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery…” – Line 67

A mix of gravity and waggery? Not bad. Jeoffry manages to hold together the two essential components of pastoral ministry and community life. He can be grave, as circumstance demand it. He won’t stand for denial. There is no fleeing from human hurt, no running from the horrid issues of the day. He has courage. He has spirit.

And, more, in balance, Jeoffry can show off a fair bit of waggery. He’s got spunk. He has got a buoyant spirit, he can leap, dance and chase and lighten a heart with good humour. Well done. Some things in life do have to be cheekily dismissed. Waggery is an excellent survival technique, for it irreverently puts irreverent things in their place! So Jeoffry lives in gravity or waggery, he is kind of Jester/Dostoyevsky – as circumstances demand. Not a bad combination.

It is exactly this mix of gravity and waggery which helps a godly community appropriately meet all of what comes at it! This combination is humane. People can freely disclose their life stories.

Community opens and finds meaning through shared narratives.

Goodness knows, we all have narratives bottled inside us which range from exciting to fearsome. Love, taking on the roles of waggery and gravity, lets the stories be received. When love is in place, nobody needs to tidy up in order to belong. Facades only stymie the flow of human narrative.  Governed by loving waggery and gravity, nobody has to hide sensitive joys or sorrows.

The heart can benefit from new laughter.
Perhaps yours can?
The soul is charged with starting up new communions
that faces darkness.
Perhaps you will find your calling in a boarding home.
Go into the day in confidence,
for God goes with you,
and let humane narratives evolve from waggery and gravity…

The poem begins with aloneness, and moves to a recognition of God’s accompanying presence, then it closes with an invitation to become part of this union and be richly blessed by it.


Alone, alone, sitting all alone,
so very much alone now,
knee-deep in depravation
dobbed in disgust,
a whispered life,
city’s verdict:

Jesus has already noted,
“My precious life” he calls her,
this gravel-in-the-rough, or
castaway gem
you go decide
you, racing by,
yes, you.

Her life-corroded face, pitted,
bends marred and cruelly pocked,
but clear porcelain faces
are of little use
cracks must run deep
so truth can get
stuck in.

Gladly, Jesus sits and adheres,
she and he, rest on a porch
and wait, and gladly wait still,
to rise and bless,
touch and ruffle,
by, and then through,
this face.

So, she and he, in concert rocking
waiting still, and rocking still,
for any hearts and open eyes.
Expectantly –
well-bent human,
bending Divine –
as one.

Speak with friends,
start the process of finding new life
in a boarding home.